December 7, 2019

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'A scary good team'

McEwen-Carruthers dream team favourites to win provincial title

Reid Carruthers will have a powerful ally when he arrives in Virden next week to defend his provincial men's curling title.

In the off-season, the five-time Manitoba champ from West St. Paul joined forces with Mike McEwen, his biggest rival, and their reconstituted dream team, which includes second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson, is seeded No. 1 heading into the Viterra Championship.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES <p />

Reid Carruthers and his team Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson celebrate after defeating Mike McEwen in the Manitoba men's curling championship in Winkler Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Reid Carruthers and his team Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson celebrate after defeating Mike McEwen in the Manitoba men's curling championship in Winkler Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018.

As skips, Carruthers and McEwen have combined to sweep the last four provincial championships and their teams faced off in the final year ago. As a joint effort, what kind of damage might they inflict on the field in 2019?

"We knew they were great friends for really a long time and they're two really good shooters," said Connor Njegovan, the lead on Jason Gunnlaugson's No. 2-seeded crew out of Morris. "I mean, it's a scary good team with a lot of experience."

Carruthers and McEwen haven't been dominant yet but it may only be a matter of time. To hear Carruthers tell it, they've had a productive stretch while figuring out how all the parts fit together.

The foursome started the season with Carruthers skipping and McEwen throwing fourth stones. That evolved into McEwen skipping and throwing fourth, followed by Carruthers throwing final stones and calling the game. Most recently, McEwen has been skipping and throwing fourth with Carruthers in the third slot, a formula they plan to continue in Virden.

'We knew they were great friends for really a long time and they're two really good shooters. I mean, it's a scary good team with a lot of experience' -  Connor Njegovan, lead on rival Jason Gunnlaugson's No. 2-seeded team, on facing McEwen-Carruthers.

"We're trying to find the right combination of who's the best fit at which position and then also, more importantly, what gives us the best chance to win and who's the best support for players at different positions?" said Carruthers. "It was a team decision and we're really excited about putting our best team forward in Virden...

"We each bring totally different skill-sets and we also had a different approach to the game as far as strategy. Our team was maybe a little bit more aggressive than what McEwen's team would employ and there are pros and cons to each. We're still trying to figure out the best combination for the four players that are on the sheet now."

While it might surprise some that rivals could emerge from elite competition and still be close friends, Carruthers is matter-of-fact about it.

ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES <p />

Mike McEwen delivers a rock against at the Tim Hortons Brier  in Regina on Friday, March 9, 2018.

ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Mike McEwen delivers a rock against at the Tim Hortons Brier in Regina on Friday, March 9, 2018.

"It's just a game. It's not ultimate fighting, it's not like we're out there drilling each other. It's curling, right?" he said. "It's a friendly sport but yes I think what boosted our friendship was the fact we were able to go toe to toe with each other and have some games that really hurt after and still, a day or two later, send messages to each other and talk it out and talk about the games.

"Part of what strengthened our relationship was it was almost like putting our relationship through the ringer. We stress-tested our relationship and now we're curling together."

What was Rob Gordon thinking when he heard McEwen and Carruthers had formed a super team?

"Powerhouse, I think," said the 23-year-old lead on Braden Calvert's No. 3 seeds from Assiniboine Memorial. "The two best skips in our province for the last quadrennial coming together. You'd think they're a tough team to beat, which they are. They're a very strong team."

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Rob Gordon of team Braden Calvert (from left), Neil Kitching of Team Dennis Bohn, Connor Njegovan of Team Gunnlaugson, Tanner Lott of Team Lott, and Reid Carruthers of team Carruthers become the five chosen teams for the Viterra Championship after the announcement Wednesday morning.</p>

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rob Gordon of team Braden Calvert (from left), Neil Kitching of Team Dennis Bohn, Connor Njegovan of Team Gunnlaugson, Tanner Lott of Team Lott, and Reid Carruthers of team Carruthers become the five chosen teams for the Viterra Championship after the announcement Wednesday morning.

Calvert's squad, which includes third Kyle Kurz and second Ian McMillan, is in prime position to make a move in Virden. It has won three Manitoba Curling Tour events and qualifying for three Grand Slam events. It's 3-0 when it has gone head to head with Carruthers.

"We've got some breaks and we've strung together some really good games," said Gordon, who is making his fifth appearance at provincials. "Braden has played really well against Reid and Reid is a little annoyed by that. We're just hoping to continue that at the Viterra...

"When he has his draw weight, (Braden's) one of the best players I've ever played with."

Carruthers, whose team has won three tournaments and lost in the final of a Grand Slam event, welcomes the competition.

"We'll settle it all at the Viterra," said Carruthers when asked about the three losses to Calvert. "Well, they've played well. They've had a consistent year and against us I felt like, Braden in particular, has been playing really well. You can tell he gets excited to play against our team and maybe he's trying to make a statement but I'm not too nervous about it."

Gunnlaugson, who has made one quarter-final and two semifinal appearances at Slam events this season, and Calvert are very capable of making a push.

"We're all prepared to make a deep run here," said Gordon, who played with Pat Simmons, Colton Lott and Kyle Doering a year ago in Winkler. "It's just a matter of if we can get past some of the top guys."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Thursday, January 31, 2019 at 12:47 PM CST: corrects home club of Reid Carruthers

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